La Universidad Desconocida

According to the introductory note for this posthumous collection of poems by Roberto Bolaño, La Universidad Desconocida (Anagrama, 2007) spans the late 70s and early 90s. The manuscript sat in Bolaño’s files for over a decade and now appears as this 500-page volume. These poems are evidence of a chaotic transition from the lyric (no matter how ironic or punk Bolaño might be) to the multitude of voices and narratives that would emerge in his fiction, particularly the late novels Los detectives salvajes and 2666, with their interpretation of poetry as an encyclopedic art.

La Universidad Desconocida tries to be an encyclopedia, too, a personal cartography borne on currents running between a disparate procession of spots on the Atlantic map, Mexico City and Barcelona anchoring the poet from past and present faults. Reading this book, I think of the two masterpieces by The Clash, London Calling and Sandinista! Bolaño’s poems inhabit the same irreverent, eclectic, desperate universe as those two albums. The unhinged elegy of a song like “Spanish Bombs” is echoed in Bolaño’s post-revolutionary poetry.

He argues against Paz as much as he does against Cardenal, though his affection for both is evident. Perhaps the central figure in Bolaño’s poems is Nicanor Parra, whose ingenuity and sarcasm inform the struggle to write about an exponential sequence of generational and personal failures. Mid-way through La Universidad Desconocida, a visionary faith is abandoned and its loss lamented matter-of-factly, hard humor:

Post Scriptum
Of what is lost, inevitably lost, I only hope to recover my writing’s daily disposition, lines capable of grabbing me by the hair and pulling me up when my body might not want to hold on any more. (Significant, said the stranger.) Both human and divine. Like those verses by Leopardi that Daniel Biga recited on a Nordic bridge to arm himself with courage, my writing should be like that. (242)

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